South & Central America
In 2006 before moving to the UK I spent 5 months travelling through South & Central America, three with my sister, including a month in Ecuador on a Jatun Sacha reserve planting trees.
+2006-03-24 12:00:00Leaving NZ
Auckland, New Zealand
After two years in Dunedin finishing my BSc, then three years working for ECONZ in Auckland, it was time for a new adventure. My sister had come up with the grand plan of volunteering in a biological reserve in Ecuador for 8 weeks after which I planned to see a but more of South and Central America.
+2006-03-24 12:00:00LA, Venice Beach
Los Angeles, US
I had a couple of nights in LA so made my down to see Venice Beach. Took the bus which was a strange experience, seems that if you have any many then you'll take a car.
+2006-03-26 12:00:00Tired and Naive
Well this was a mess. I arrived at the airport and I couldn't see anyway holding a sign for me like there was meant to be. I walked through and managed to find a really dodgy taxi driver I somehow though was from the hostel and who convinced me to go for a drink. Mistake number one. While we were having a drink his mate stole my camera and some other stuff from my bag in the car. When we got in the cab the guy had a couple of friends and after we had stopped by the side of the road for a while I agreed to pay US$50 for the ride, a rip. Unfortunately I hadn't checked the exchange rate (mistake number 2) and they convinced me to pay 10 times what I thought I was. Oh well you live and learn and although I feel pretty gutted by the whole experience I'll get over it. We're off to Machu Pichu tomorrow which should take my mind off it all.
Well we've arrived in Cusco and I feel much better after my disater in Lima. We took a 20 hour bus ride to get here which wasn't that pleasant as the toilet stank and we were right next to it but it got us here. We are booked in for the Inca Trail and Machu Pichu on Friday which should be great and gives us a couple of days to explore Cusco and get used to the altitude before the 4 day hike. Cusco is a much nicer than Lima, more rustic and all the buildings are much more historic and interesting. Hopefully the next couple of days should be much more relaxed and interesting than the last few have been.
+2006-04-02 12:00:00Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail
Well we did the Inca trail which was an incredible experience even though we had quite a bit against us. First off I got the flu the day before we went. We started of the first days walk about 3 late due to rain, a washed out road and visa troubles for some of the people in our group.
The second day there was a bit of rain just to spice things up a bit and we had a massive climb straight up some moutain. Over 1000 meters up to a 4200 meter pass. The altitude made the climb really hard although the porters gave us coca tea which is meant to help with the altitude sickness.
Day three wasn't so bad, the climb was gentler and the rain eased up.
The fourth day was a big let down though. We were meant to walk along the trail and through the sun gate which gives you incredible views from above. Unfortunately there was a mud slide on the track that meant we had to get up at 3am and walk down the hill for 2 hours in the dark and catch a bus to Machu Picchu and approach it from below. While this was really disaapointing Machu Picchu itself was still incredible. You really have to see it to understand how awesome it is. The sides just seem to drop straight down on either side and the place is seriously big given how isolated and hard to get to the place is.
When we got back to Cusco I was feeling pretty sick. I think the water they ¨boiled¨for us wasn't actually boiled at all and we've had to stay an extra day in Cusco. Which worked out fine for Charlotte as she got another night of drinking while I was confined to bed. Still she got all our washing and bus tickets sorted out yesterday so I can't complain.
So we're off to Ica today which is apperantly going to involve a bit of sand surfing down the dunes which should be good.
+2006-04-07 12:00:00An Oasis
So it turns out that the entire coast of Peru is basically one big ugly boring desert. On our way north we stayed at a little oasis near Ica which was a nice quite change after the busy party atmosphere of Cusco.
The really cool thing about this place was the sand surfing. Not even the actual sand surfing so much as the dune buggies that we went sand surfing in. Hooning around dunes in a wee kart is great fun. We didn't get to drive or anything but given that they were going straight down vertical slopes that was probably a good thing!
Charlotte has been desperate to have a crack at surfing and who am I to say no? The problem was that I had been sick since Cusco and just didn't have the energy to have a decent crack at it. Charlie did alright managing to stand up and go all the way to the beach on day 2. I spent day 1 lying on the board simply unable to find the energy to push myself up. Day 2 was a little better for me as I actually had some energy and was able to have a go at it.
Anyway after 2 days Charlie decided that we were ready for a trip up the coast to what is apparently the longest left point break in the world. Great idea. I was feeling pretty sick by this time and the guy who took us up there lead us off the rocks to try and surf the thing straight away. What a genius. I haven't even managed to stand up on the board yet and he's throwing us in the deep end. I was feeling pretty shattered at that point, there was a mean current and I was out of energy so I made a beeline for the beach. Straight across the rocks and cut my feet to shreds. What's more we had the biggest boards in the world since we were learning and had quite a hike to get there. And the normal fit surfer dudes were complainging about how heavy their tiny wee boards were. I think I'll have another crack at the surfing thing when I feel healthy.
+2006-04-14 12:00:00Mucaro no Tumbes no Machala
Well we were on a bus to Mucaro in Peru to try out some more surfing but apparently our stop was at 4am in the morning and we missed it ending up in the border town of Tumbes. Since we were so close to Ecuador and it was 6am we decided to push on even though we had just finished a 10 hour bus ride and got a bus to Machala. The border crossing was trivial, just a lot of waiting in a long line and then we were there, Machala, the banana capital of the world. Where there are a lot of bananas and not much else.
+2006-04-14 12:00:00The capital of Ecuador
Well I'm currently in Quito and I have to say that I like the place. I like Ecuador itself a lot though, so much green is such a relief after the dusty coast of Peru.
Currently me and Charlotte are taking Spanish lessons in a desperate bid to get our Spanish to a level where we can communicate with the people in Tsuraku when we get there. It seems that me and Charlie are going to be the only foreigners there so we'll have to speak Spanish if we want to talk to anyone else!
Anyway there's a rum and coke night at the hostel tonight where they put on the first 12 liters for free so I'd say there's going to be a lot of drinking. And Charlie has signed us up to go to some market at 7:30am tomorrow so that is going to be a challenge.
Well we were meant to be going to the jungle today to start our 8 weeks of volunteering in Tsuraku but things haven't exactly gone to plan.
After 3 weeks of feeling pretty average I finally went and saw a doctor who told me that I have bronchitis and that going to the jungle was a no no. Apparently the odds of me getting pneumonia there and then getting really ill are pretty high so I need to rest, take some pills and get better first.
So we have a few more days to kill in Quito and the mountains before we head off to Tsuraku. Which isn't so bad because Quito is quite a cool place with heaps to do. Although drinking is of course ruled out for me which sucks. But drinking has been banned at our hostel anyway for a week because some Irish guy went for a run across the roof and fell into the neighbours place. He bribed a few people though and was out of jail the next day.
Anyway we're are going to the hot baths at Papallacta tonight which should be nice and are going to spend a couple of days doing the Quilotoa loop which is meant to be really scenic.
+2006-04-19 12:00:00Warm Springs
Went to the warm springs for a break from Quito which was nice. Being up in the cold mountains in scenic settings and sitting around in hot water was just really nice.
+2006-04-22 12:00:00Quilotoa Circuit & Latacunga Loop
This is one of the most scenic mountain paths in Ecuador. It's basically an 8 hour bus ride with a stop in the middle and their is heaps of tramping and horse riding that you can do. The place is really beautiful and we spent a day here going to the Quilotoa laguna which is a lake in an old volcano crater and then doing a 5 hour hike back to our hostel.
The hike was really fun, we skipped going down into the crater as at 3800 meters the altitude would have made the walk back up really hard and I'm still getting over my bronchitis.
The walk to the hostel was quite pleasant though and the last bit was real fun walking down a cliff through narrow channels in the cliff and over wooden Indiana Jones style bridges. The most fun was right at the end where there was a mud slip which covered about 5 meters of the path over a cliff which went basically straight down. There was still rocks falling down and the entire slip was moving downwards and we got to cross it. Which was great because I really didn't feel like climbing back up that cliff. Got some photos which I'll upload when I have the time. We stayed at a hostel called 'Mama Hildas' in Chugchilan which was great. All the furniture was carved from wood and it was a really nice quite break after the hostel in Quito.
+2006-04-24 12:00:00Puyo, Pastaza Ecuador
Well I'm currently in Puyo and in about an hour we are going to catch a bus to Tsuraku and finally begin the volunteering part. I think that I'm pretty much better now and I'm ready to go.
Puyo itself is a pretty small town given that it is the entry to the Amazon in Ecuador. There is meant to be a really good restaurant here called 'El Jardin' that we wanted to go to last night but apparently they have recently changed their hours and are now not open on Sundays which was a bit of a bummer. But we found a decent place to eat any way and had a decent feed. Which we needed, it's amazing how much taking buses all the time takes out of you.
+2006-05-01 12:00:00Volunteering at Tsuraku
Tsuraku is 51km south of Puyo and takes 2 hours to get to by bus! It apparently has about 400 inhabitants made up by about 40 families but it looks a lot smaller than that.
So far our volunteering experience has been pretty laid back. We only "work" for 4 and a half days so that we can get away on the weekend. And only one or two of those days seem to be actual work. The others are spent walking in the forest, doing bits and ends or just nothing.
Apparently the forest around Tsuraku is only 30 years old and there isn't a great deal of wild life (probably because the locals hunt it). It is also nowhere near as hot as I expected and there are next to no mosquitos - although there is some kind of blood sucking fly which leaves quite an itchy bite.
It's nice being able to get away on the weekends as well.
We went rafting in Tena on the weekend which was great fun. So much so that when they offered us another day for half price we changed our plans and went again.
Tena itself was quite a picturesque wee city that I like a lot.
Charlotte had a great time and looks like we might end up here again.
+2006-05-20 12:00:00Grade 4 Rafting
Back to Tena for some more rafting and this time we gave grade 4 a go.
It wasn't as good as we'd hoped but was still a lot of fun. We also went into some cave for half an hour which was quite cool. The girls were dressed in bikinis or underwear and gumboots and to top it off our guide only had one leg. Still he got around better than most of us. The cave walls were covered in mud and we had some big mudfight in the middle of it which was a laugh.
Also after the rafting I ate some palm tree with the lava that live in them. Might not of been but I'm guessing that they are what made feel sick for the 3 days, my gut was killing me.
+2006-06-02 12:00:00Finally out of Tsuraku
Riobamba itself wasn't a particulary special place but it was nice to be somewhere new. There wasn't a lot to do here and the reason that we came here was to catch the train to ¨Nariz del Diablo¨, the Devils Nose.
+2006-06-04 12:00:00Nariz del Diablo - The devils nose
The train ride from Riobamba was great. We sat on the top of the train - although a little too close to the front so we had diesel fumes burning our eyes when we went through canyons and the like. The scenery on the way to Aluasi was absolutely incredible though and made up for all the discomfort, that and the novelty of sitting on top of a train.
+2006-06-05 12:00:00Cuenca: A pretty City
Cuenca was quite a pretty city which is quite novel for Ecuador. We stayed in a hostel called Cafecito which was basically a cafe/restaurant/bar surrounded with hostal rooms. Good fun when you're drinking but not so great when you want to get some sleep. It closed at midnight tho so it wasn't really a problem.
+2006-06-07 12:00:00Guayaquil: Large and Busy
Guayaquil is a strange city, it's Ecuadors biggest and is as dirty and crazy as you'd expect. Our taxi driver thought he was Michael Schumacher or something and drove like a madman. Mind you most of the other drivers seemed to think they were racing drivers to.
The waterfront is really impressive. They have done it up really well and it looks great. It seems really strange when you look at the rest of the city however because the contrast is so great.
+2006-06-08 12:00:00Surfer Town
Montañita was the first stop on our two week trip up the coast. It basically turned into our only one.
Montañita is a small little surfers town, it has heaps of decent food, you can get surfing lessons and it has an incredibly laid back atmosphere which suited both me and Charlie just fine.
We went to Pueto Lopez after four days there and then decided that we both wanted to go back. We did a tour while in Puerto Lopez that included snorkeling, kayaking and fishing which was fun but once we'd done all that there was no reason to stay.
The hostel that we stayed in was called "Rickys" and was run by this really cool surfer whose name funnily enough was Ricky.
Charlotte actually liked it so much that she has changed her plane ticket and is staying there another two weeks. I would have stayed longer too but I'm running out of time and money to get through Central America.
+2006-06-20 12:00:00Farewell to Ecuador
Went back to Quito where Charlotte changed her airfare and then I had to say goodbye to by little sister. We had a nice picnic in the park and then I had to get on my bus.
Some guy tried to pick my pocket the night we got there but I wasn't letting go and he eventually left. It was right outside the front door of the hostel in a busy spot so I don't think that he was trying that hard. If it had been in a quieter place I'm not sure things would've gone so well.
+2006-06-21 12:00:00Into Colombia
I crossed the border into Colombia here which was incredibly straight forward.
+2006-06-22 12:00:00Quick stop in Cali
I only stopped in Cali for the night but from what I sure of it it was nice. The bus rise from the border was incredible. It was some of the most beautiful country that I have ever seen and after Pasto the bus went down this massive canyon where the sides seemed to just go straight down for miles.
It was kind of scary seeing all the army guys with machine guns guarding the bridges and tunnels but the road is apparently very safe now and they haven't had problems for years.
The bus got stopped twice, once by the army and the other time by the police where they searched it for drugs. A bit nerve wracking being searched even though I knew I had nothing, there's just something about a bunch of guys standing round with big arse guns that makes you nervous though.
+2006-06-23 12:00:00Plastic surgery capital
I've been told that Medellin is the plastic surgery capital of the world and from what I've seen I'd say that they are probably right. All the girls here are gorgeous. Had a good night out last night but not hanging around for long as there is a lot more that I want to do in the North so I need to move on.
+2006-06-24 12:00:00Another city
I don't like Cartagena that much. The old walled city is kind of cool but the rest of the city is dirty and just doesn't feel that safe. I have to come back here to sail to Panama but I will try and make that trip as short as possible.
+2006-06-26 12:00:00Ciudad Perdidad, Tayrona
Santa Marta, Colombia
Santa Marta is a city more to my liking. The beach is about 100 meters from the hostel but it is so full of locals swimming that there isn't much point in going there for that.
More interesting is the stuff around Santa Marta. There is Tayrona National Park which I went to for a couple of days and the other really cool site is Ciudad Perdida.
+2006-06-28 12:00:00Christ it's hot
Tayrona National Park, Colombia
Tayrona National Park is just amazing. The beaches are white and there are coconut trees everywhere.
It's one of those tropical paradises you see on post cards and the like. It's also really really hot. I walked in 7 km's and by the end of it I was covered in sweat. I had no idea that I could sweat that much, it was just pouring off.
+2006-07-01 12:00:00Ciudad Perdida
Ciudad Perdida, Colombia
Ciudad Perdida, the "Lost City". It's a three day hike to get there and then a two day hike back; which including a day spent in the city is a six day walk. And with how hot it is around here six days is a lot of walking. I ended up doing it in five with a couple of Canadian guys, Tyrel and Mike, who seemed to think that running most of the way was fun. Which it kind of was but I feel absolutely stuffed now and the uphill hikes where murderous with the sun beating down. Our guide Edwin was apparently the guide who was there when a group of tourists got kidnapped 3 years ago which was a little disturbing to hear. Still the army is at the site now so the likelyhood of that happening again is pretty small now. Did the tourist thing like all the other guys though and got a photo of myself with one of their M16s.
+2006-07-07 12:00:00Met Lucky
While waiting for a boat to Panama I ran into Lucky of TravelPod.
+2006-07-16 12:00:00Sailing on the Stahlratte to San Blas
San Blas Islands, Panama
Saling from Cartegena in Colombia to the San Blas Islands in Panama. We spent two days sailing there and then 3 days chilling out on white sand beaches and snorkeling in incredibly clear water. Absolutely incredible experience.
Just reached Panama City after 6 days on board the Stahlratte (www.stahlratte.org).
+2006-07-18 12:00:00Panama Canal
Panama Canal, Panama
Panama City is a just another big city and not that exciting. I went to the old sector today with Thomas who I met on the Stahlratte and that was rather cool. Half of the buildings are abandoned and falling to pieces which just seemed a lot more real than the way that everything was fixed up in Cartagena.
Also went to the Canal with Mike, Tanya and some others from the Stahlratte and watched a few big cargo ships going through the locks.
Bocas del Toro, Panama
Had a good time here. Didn't see much off the islands as spent an entire day drinking and the like with Thomas and Mike from the Stahlratte.
The boat trips both to and from the island were a lot of fun. Especially the one to Chanquinola through the old banana canals. What isn't so cool about the place was that rains a lot. Still a rather picturesque place.
+2006-07-21 12:00:00Dodgy taxi drivers
San Jose, Costa Rica
I've had a pretty dodgy start to my travels in Costa Rica. Firstly I had to buy a bus ticket to enter the country and the only ones that they sell at the border are back into Panama so I won't use the stupid thing.
Secondly my taxi driver was an ass. Tried telling me that the place was full and I'd have to pay $45 a night. Even rang some person up who said the same thing. Then took me to some other hostel anyway. I gave him a dollar, told him to piss off and walked to the hostel which had $10 bed dorms available. There was even a sign there warning of the same thing.
+2006-07-23 12:00:00Managua : A bit dodgy
Had to spend a night in Managua and it wasn't pleasant. When I got to the hostel at about 10 at night and went out to get some food they sent a guy running down the street to tell me that it was to dangerous. Had an old lady holding a knife to her throat to get the point across. Got out of here as soon as I could.
Corn Islands, Nicaragua
The corn islands were incredible. The place had so few tourists compared to everywhere else that it was really nice to have a break from all the normal travel.
I stayed at the Nautalist dive center and the dive instructor there was living in the same place. Jim managed to convince me that it would be a good idea to do my open water there and it was incredible. On my 3rd and 4th dives I saw nurse sharks, a black tip reek shark, eagle rays and a turtle. It was great.
Apart from that I spent my time relaxing, drinking and smoking. I had planned on staying here for 3 maybe four days and ended up here for 10.
+2006-08-02 12:00:00Nice quite town
After having spent a night in Managua I was bit scared about visiting another Nicaraguan city but Leon was nice. It was quite, pretty and just a nice change after having seen Managua. Stayed in the Big Foot hostel and just had a nice relaxing couple of days.
+2006-08-04 12:00:00Stopover before Diving
Just stopped over here on the way to the Bay Islands but it seemed nice. The city is up in the hills and quite spread out. Had some OK Chinese for dinner but didn't really see much of the place.
+2006-08-05 12:00:00Advanced Open Water
Utila is a lot more busy than tyhe Corn Islands and I arrived here just after Sun Jam so there wasn't much accommodation. It's a very touristy place with pretty much the entire island catering to travelers.
I did my advanced open water here with Bay Islands College of Diving. It was the place that Jim, my instructor on the Corn Islands had worked and he'd said it was good. And it was.
Also ran into Mike and Tanya that I first met on the Stalratte from Colombia which was kind of random. Made the night times a bit less boring though which was cool.
+2006-08-11 12:00:00Copan Ruins
Copan is a lovely little village with cobblestone roads and nice old buildings. The main reason that I was here though was to see the ruins which were incredible. Only spent one night here though as I'm rather short on time now.
This is another nice old town although it's rather larger than Copan. The cool thing about Antigua as far as I'm concerned though is the fact that it is surrounded by volcanoes.
I made it up to the top of a volcano eventually - the first attempt was stuffed up because daylight saving was still in effect in Guatemala so I showed up an hour late - and saw some lava. There wasn't that much on the day that I was there which was a bit disappointing, I've talked to others who were able to walk right up to it and stick a stick in it but it wasn't flowing enough for me to do that. Still a pretty cool experience.
+2006-08-14 12:00:00Lake Atitlan
Nice little town on the side of Lake Atitlan. Didn't do a lot here and only stayed for a day.
+2006-08-15 12:00:00Fresh water Diving
Santa Cruz La Laguna, Guatemala
Went for a dive in Lake Atitlan from here. The experience wasn't that exciting. Visibility was only about 2 meters and apparently this was good for here! Still it was my first dive both in fresh water and at altitude and buoyancy control was a lot harder.
I had planned on doing my altitude specialty here but given the experience I think that I'm going to stick to diving in the ocean.
+2006-08-17 12:00:00Small island town
Flores Peten, Guatemala
Flores is a cute little town on a little island. The reason that I came here was to see Tikal but Flores itself was quite enjoyable.
+2006-08-18 12:00:00Monkeys! And the most incredible ruins
Tikal is the most amazing place that I have visited. The ruins are deep in the jungle and you walk along paths that are surrounded by trees. And I finally got to see monkeys in the wild, they were eveywhere.
Tikal is a big place and you have to walk at least 10 ks to see a decent amount of it. What I really loved about it though was that when you climbed the temples you could see the tops of 5 or 6 others stretching out above the canopy, it was simply and incredible sight.
+2006-08-20 12:00:00Transit through Belize
Tight on time and money so all I saw of Belize was a quick stop on the way through to Cancan.
+2006-08-20 12:00:00Cancan: Shock to the system
I went straight to Cancun from Flores as I was just about out of time. I kind of wished that I stopped off in another town for a day on the way up though as the bus ride was pretty long and Cancun isn't that exciting. I'm staying in the downtown part as it is a lot cheaper than the Hotel part ($10 a night compared to $100) but it isn't that exciting. The main part of Cancun seems to be the Hotel area along the coast, it's certainly the more glitzy part, but it is just big Hotels and Shopping Malls.
Still Chichen Itza is reachable from here and I fly out from here to Miami, then London.
+2006-08-23 12:00:00Chichén Itzá
Chichén Itzá, Mexico
The ruins here were pretty impressive but I don't think that anything can top Tikal. There is only one big temple here but the cool thing about it is the acoustics. When you stand at the bottom in front of the stairs and clap your hands then the echo sounds like a snake, it's really quite amazing.
The other part was the ball court where when you clapped you heard seven echoes which apparently is meant to represent the seven players that they had on each side.
+2006-08-26 12:00:00Finish line: London
Arrived in the UK after 5 months of travel with the fun of finding a job and a place to live ahead of me. London is a challenging place to after arrive with next to no money and such a change in price and culture after everything else.